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Critical Habitat “Win” for Bull Trout Misses the Target?

October 13, 2010

MISSOULA, Mont. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has significantly expanded the designated "critical habitat" for bull trout in Montana and other states, listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The agency outlined the new zones on Tuesday, after previous designations ended up in court.

However, the victory isn't being toasted by Montana Trout Unlimited. The group's executive director, Bruce Farling, says while habitat is important and improvements are welcome, most Montana habitat is already perfect – and yet, the fish are still disappearing.

"Bull trout are in trouble in a large part of the range in Montana – the Flathead, for instance, or the Swan – because of non-native species, which has nothing to do with habitat."

Lake trout get most of the blame. They were introduced into waterways for sport fishing years ago, and those fish became predatory - feeding on young bull trout and cutthroat trout. Talks are underway with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and tribes about how to reduce lake trout numbers.

Farling supports gill netting and aggressive angling to get a handle on lake trout populations, but notes there is resistance and debate about whether that would be a permanent fix.

"If we care about native species, we've got to get crackin', because most of the lakes were originally bull trout-cutthroat lakes, and now only a couple of them are."

The new designation lists more than 3,000 miles of streams in Montana, and 220,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs as critical habitat for bull trout.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT